Is there anyone out there who remembers
being evacuated to Northampton during the blitz of 1940? I’d love to hear
In that glorious summer of 1940, my mother,
sister and I were living in Riffel Road, Willesden Green while my father
was out on Canvey Island manning an anti-aircraft gun. (He was 39, but
being in the ‘Terriers’ was called up just before the war began.) I was
coming up to 12 years old and joined WCGS that September. My memory of
the first few weeks was first, morning assembly – then an hour or so in
our classrooms, followed most days, by the siren wailing and the orderly
(?) scramble down into the shelters. These took the form of long tunnels
under the playfield where we all sat in rows, facing each other, on
slatted benches and the teacher was half-a-mile away down the far end. We
held our books on our knees. How we were ever expected to learn anything
I’ll never know.
If the ‘raid’ was still on at 4.30pm we
were let off to go home – if our parents had given permission. Nothing
ever happened, as far as I can remember. But the nightly blitz was a
different matter. Heavy bombers, all heading for Willesden Junction
marshalling yards and bombs dropping everywhere, including an incendiary
through our upstairs flat while we were with the landlord’s family in the
Anderson shelter in the garden. Luckily it failed to ignite properly and
the ARP wardens put it out. But it was enough for our mother. In early
October, she and my sister went to friends in Cheshire where she got a job
as a teacher and I joined the WCGS exodus to Northampton.
Together with boys from Kilburn Grammar we
were elbowed into Northampton Town and County School on the Billing Road.
The Northampton boys did the morning shift at school and we interlopers
did the afternoon. We were given plenty of work to fill in our mornings.
Most evacuees lived with the good folk of Northampton, but for some reason
I was billeted in a small ‘country’ house at No. 101, dead opposite our
new school. There were about 20 of us – first formers like me, to sixth
formers and the billet was run by Mr and Mrs Parker. She was a bit of a
‘dragon’ – well, with a bunch of testosterone fuelled lads like us, she
had to be! Mr P. was a mild mannered bloke and his day job was chemistry
or physics master, I think.
There was a small dining room, and
considering we were rationed, Mrs P. fed us well. A front room was
converted into a classroom with old fashioned desks (including ink-wells!)
and it was here we worked in the mornings. At the back of the handsome
house was a large ‘billiard room’ and this became our Common Room where we
gathered to fool around after school and make model aircraft – British,
German and later American. There was a serious stamp collecting group and
some of us made cat’s whisker radio receivers from stuff we bought in a
local junk shop.
Upstairs – as well as the Parkers’ quarters
– we lads slept in small dormitories – 5 or 6 to a room in single beds. I
remember mine well and I’d like to name the boys I was with in case any of
them are still around and would like to contact me.
The 5 of us
were all first formers and I was by the door, facing the window. On my
left, was my best buddy, Dennis Spurgeon (WCGS) and next to him, in the
corner, Chaffer, a Kilburn lad. Opposite Chaffer was another Kilburnian –
Dimbleby and under the window, Walton, also WCGS. We all seemed to mix
together very amicably. I wonder where you all are now?
We played the usual boys’ school games –
soccer and rugby during the winter and cricket in the summer. There was a
huge swimming pool in the town at Midsummer Meadows, I remember. It was
just a large hole that had been cheaply and simply lined and the water
came from a diversion of the River Nene – in at one end and out back into
the river at the other! Present day ‘elf and safety inspectors would have
a fit! The river had taken the waste from half-a-dozen tanneries
up-stream before we enjoyed its cooling, murky water on a hot Saturday
afternoon. But we all learned to swim, which can’t be bad and it must
have helped our immune systems to overcome countless bugs in later life.
Although I have to say, the pool was closed for a time one year when a
diphtheria epidemic swept the town. Along with other boys at No. 101 I
got a mild dose.
holidays, like Christmas, Easter and Summer, we all went home. My
friends, of course, returned to London, but I had to thread my way on the
railway to Cheshire. Northampton – Rugby – Crewe – Manchester and finally
Altrincham. The trains were crammed with forces personnel and as a 12
year old I quite enjoyed it, as I’d enjoyed the excitement of the blitz, I
guess. I’d spend the journey sitting in the corridor on my suitcase,
handling a Lee-Enfield rifle, lent to me by a friendly soldier or wearing
a sailor’s hat!
But it was
not to last and life moved on. My mother got me a place at Altrincham
Grammar School starting in the September of 1942, so after two happy years
with WCGS in Northampton I caught my last train home and started a new
school, where I stayed until 1946. This was followed by 3 years at London
University and a degree in Civil Engineering. I failed my medical so I
wasn’t conscripted. Had that nasty, smelly swimming pool in Northampton
put a bug in my lungs after all? It didn’t seem to matter as I spent the
next 40 years working around the world building things with an
international civil engineering contractor.
When our son with wife and two granddaughters
emigrated to Perth in 1996, I was retired so my wife and I followed and
have never regretted it. So if any of you out there were in Northampton
from 1940 – email me on: